by Nathalie Gray, futuristic (2008)
Ellora's Cave, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-4199-1626-7
Mechanical Rose is a romantic steampunk fantasy set in a world where Regency England-like mannerisms co-exist with fantastic machinery. The society that gives this book its name is a group of covert assassins. The Mechanical Rose Society don't view themselves as killers, of course. They believe that they are the only ones who can take down the bad guys before these bad guys cause much harm. They usually give their targets a chance to repent. It is only when these guys refuse to fall in line that the members of the Society kill them.
Our heroine, Eleanor Cleverly, embraces the philosophy of the Society. This is why she is their most efficient agent. If you don't believe me, just go to the opening chapter and see how she easily strangles a man to death. For her latest mission, she is "Violet Escoraille", a distant relative of her target who will surprise this man with a visit. Her target, Leeford Gunn, is an inventor who has recently created a device that can be potentially used as a weapon of mass destruction. Unknown to him, his sponsor is definitely a bad guy who will use his creation to wreck havoc. The Society is aware of this, of course, which is why Eleanor is sent to persuade Leeford to stop his project or kill that man if he refuses.
When it comes to enjoying Mechanical Rose, I suspect that it is mostly about the reader's expectations. What do you expect after reading the synopsis and the opening chapter? For me, I am thrilled in the first chapter by the heroine's cold and ruthless personal moral code. I turn the page hoping to get a darker type of urban fantasy type story, maybe one that challenges me to think about just how low one should sink in order to uphold the greater good.
Alas, from the moment Eleanor meets Leeford, she's a goner. She is no longer a cold-hearted spy. She stammers when she first meets him and she hopes in her heart of hearts that she wouldn't have to kill him. She even feels guilty about lying to him. Apparently she was previously good at what she did because her targets didn't make her heart beat faster. Oh boy. It's not that bad, really, because Eleanor doesn't do anything stupid in this story. It's just she turns out to be so different from what I expected from her after reading the first chapter - she's a complete one-eighty from my expectations, really - that I can't help giving a heavy sigh and feeling rather let down.
Luckily for Eleanor, she doesn't even have to face too many moral and emotional conflicts here - another heavy sigh - because Leeford is a good man and his only crime is that he's not aware of who his sponsor is. The story, therefore, resolves itself easily. Leeford is a pleasant hero here - a little impatient with what he deems to be frivolity, yes, but he is a nice guy. As a result, Mechanical Rose doesn't really have much of a conflict once Leeford wises up about who his sponsor is.
Mechanical Rose is a most readable story. The slow pacing takes some getting used to on my part after the author's previous high-octane space adventures, but it suits the story fine. The only thing here is, I was led to expect many things after the first chapter, things that turn out to be completely different from the things offered in the subsequent chapters. Mechanical Rose is actually a straightforward story with very little genuine conflict. The heroine turns out to be rather... well, conventional, the hero is a straightforward good guy, and they are both on the same side. In other words, this is a fairly conventional story. Therefore, if you adjust your expectations accordingly before you read this book, I suspect that you may have a good time here.
Sigh, I just wish someone has warned me about what I know now before I began reading. I'm most likely being unfair to Ms Gray here, sorry, but a part of me will always be hoping for so much more than what was offered. As a result, I can't help but to be slightly disappointed by it even when the story that is delivered here isn't in any way a bad one.
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